Employers need ‘sun safety strategies’ to protect outdoor workers

Nine in 10 skin cancer deaths could be prevented if employers and employees took precautions to avoid sun damage – especially those working outdoors.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said at least 1,500 new diagnoses of non-melanoma skin cancer and 240 new cases of malignant melanoma linked to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure at work every year could be avoided if businesses developed “sun safety strategies”.

Such strategies should involve regular updates on the UV index from weather forecasts; minimising workers’ sun exposure in the middle of the day by swapping jobs among team members; and asking employees to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers.

Outdoor workers – especially those in construction, farming, recreation, sports and public services – are particularly at risk because of their roles. IOSH claimed outdoor workers receive 5-10 times the yearly UVR exposure of indoor workers and are regularly exposed to UVR for more than three-quarters of their working day.

It is estimated that the risk of developing skin cancer increased significantly with five or more years of outdoor work.

“Both malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer are on the rise in Britain and Europe and sun exposure is the main cause. In Britain alone, skin cancer kills 60 workers a year,” said Mary Ogungbeje, research manager at IOSH.

To mark Sun Awareness Week this week, IOSH pointed organisations that employ outdoor staff to research it conducted with Heriot-Watt University. The study, published earlier this year, found workers’ desire to get a sun tan remained high in the summer, with many workers deliberately exposing themselves to high levels of UV radiation to get the desired skin tone.

Heriot-Watt University’s Professor John Cherrie said Britons’ desire for a sun tan is “stopping us from taking proper care to protect our skin from the damaging effects of the UV radiation in sunlight.”

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